In Defense of Labels

Please check out this post on Elephant Journal where your clicks here will help my rating during their “sweeps.”

In my feminist, sex-positive, queer-positive travels, I constantly hear folks complaining about labels.  Let’s just stop with all these labels.  If we could just get away from labels.  It’s the labels that are the problem.  When I hear this, I often wonder how any of the progress that’s been made to expand notions of gender identity beyond the binary and make space for non-heteronormative and queer forms of identity could have been made without labels.  How could we fight for gay marriage without the word “gay?”  How could we raise awareness that not everyone fits neatly into male/female categories without labels like transgender, intersex, and genderqueer?  I can understand the frustration with labels when it feels like they narrow who we can be and pigeon-hole us into existing categories, like male and female, for example.  But ironically, I believe the way to expand notions of identity and free ourselves from those limits is also through more labels.

I recently heard the phrase “Gender, Sexual, and Relationship Minorities” for the first time.  As someone who focuses my career in the mental health field on those very groups, I was so pleased to finally have found a quick and dirty label not only for the folks I work with but for myself, as a queer-identified pansexual.  However, after my initial excitement, I started to feel a bit sad.  Would this mean I would have to stop using the acronym I coined on my blog and have been using for over a year… LGBTQIAPK?

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Pro-Life Means Fighting for the Already Born, Not Just Fetuses

Part 2 or a 2-Part Series on Abortion.  Trigger warning for, well, most upsetting things.

In my last post, I told the story of 18 year-old Alma, a pregnant girl in the child protective services system who has an unusually good chance of becoming self-sufficient and getting her family off government support if she has an abortion.  I discussed the various pro-life ways of looking at the situation: pro-baby’s life versus pro-Alma’s life as well as her future children and descendants’ lives.  Who decides which life and what aspect of life to prioritize?  I chose Alma’s story because is not black and white.  I believe in Alma’s case, the choice to keep her baby and the choice to abort it would both come with tremendous grief, both result in extreme loss, and also both be life-enhancing in different ways.  I saw both choices as “pro-life.”  But Alma’s story is not common for kids like her.

In order to choose what is “pro-life” we have to ask ourselves what IS life?  Are there points at which life becomes much like death, or even worse than death?  Are there times when in order for life to continue to mean something someone who is “pro-life” might advocate death?  This may sound extreme, but how many of us have thought an elderly or suffering relative was “in a better place” or “not suffering anymore.”  What these statements essentially suggest is that someone is better off dead.  Yes, I understand, we don’t actively kill folks in those situations, but most of us can imagine the point at which life would be worse than death for us or a loved one.  That line is different for each of us, but most of us have experienced a situation where we feel that the kindest thing, the most life-affirming, pro-life thing, would be for someone to die.  For most of us, fortunately, it’s harder to imagine a “living death” when we think of a child.  But not for me.  Not after seven years working with poor, abused, and neglected kids and teens.

Walking to and from school dodging gunfire.  Is that life?  Being repeatedly raped by one’s father over the course of years while family members do nothing, or blame you.  Is that life?  Is being slammed in the head with a two-by-four for coming home past curfew, life?  Is being severely burned or shaken to death, life?  Is having one’s limbs broken at 6 months old, life?  Is weekly fist fights with a parent, life?  Is eating paint and dog food for weeks until a neighbor discovers you’ve been left in the care of a dog at 3 years old, life?  Is watching your twin slowly starve to death because a parent refuses food as a punishment, life?  Is being kicked out of your home because you identify as a lesbian, life?  Is watching your father beat and anally rape your mother while she screams for mercy, life?  Is raising three younger siblings at eight years old while your heroine addict parents vomit on themselves, life?  Is beating your mother’s boyfriend with a metal pole after he stabs her in the face, life?  Is being shot by gang members and left to bleed out after fighting back during a gang rape, life?

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Children and Happiness – My Guide to Realistic Expectations!

Parenting is an uphill climb...

Originally Appeared on

Before I started graduate school, I spent several years taking courses I needed in order to apply, volunteering in clinical and research settings, talking to folks who already had doctorates, and simply thinking about whether this was what I wanted.  I knew getting a doctorate would be a massive undertaking that would impact every aspect of my life.  I knew a lot of the steps in the process would be grueling drudgery, like taking my comprehensive exams and writing my dissertation.  I had enough people warn me that there would be times I would wonder if I had made the wrong choice, and might even consider quitting, so when those things happened I wasn’t completely thrown.  I reminded myself I had been warned but had made the decision anyway because I believed, in the end, grad school would be worthwhile.  I wasn’t expecting to feel great all along the way, but I sure did feel great when I walked up and claimed my diploma and folks started calling me doctor.

I have a very smart friend who also has a doctoral degree.  When talking about the transition to having a daughter, she told me she thought having a child would disrupt her life for about two months, and then she would return to her “normal life” – back to work, back to the status quo in her relationship, “just with this cute little person there.”  Well you can imagine the rough transition she had when reality hit!  Imagine going into grad school expecting to have your life hardly be altered?  No one would ever get their degree.  Imagine thinking you could just write your dissertation on the side in your spare time.  Imagine showing up for the New York Marathon expecting to feel blissful the whole time.  Expectation is everything.  The same experience can feel drastically different depending on what we are expecting.  But it order to manage our expectations we have to make an informed choice to do something and not have it thrust upon us.

Some key ways to manage expectations about having children:

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My “It Gets Better” To America

Marriage Equality is on the move!

Too many times throughout history, people in economic distress, feeling hopeless and scared, have chosen hate over love, broken the bonds that should have held them together, and turned backward instead of moving forward.  Too often under stress, human nature propels us to choose the false promise of a quick fix, rather than slogging through the difficult work of true progress.

This week, Americans made a different choice.  Ironically, despite all our disappointment in Obama for not delivering the hope and change he promised, after our collective reckoning with how hard and slow change truly is, we chose hope anyway.  We chose the vision of a society we create together, where freedom is truly shared, rather than lies and false promises based on sketchy math and reactionary social positions.  Rather than returning to historical practices limiting reproductive freedoms, to the view that men are the most capable of making choices about women’s bodies, we said no to moving backwards, and yes to equality.

We said no to Minnesota’s attempt to limit the definition of marriage to one man, one woman.  For the first time in our country’s history, citizens went to the poles and affirmed the rights of gay couples to marry.  In Maryland, Maine, and probably Washington (in every state, in fact, that posed the question) citizens voted for civil rights. The same country that after September 11 passed laws based in hate, to ascribe second class status to queer citizens, and that allowed irrational, self-destructive foreign policies to prevail, said no to war-mongering and yes to common sense.  We said yes to love, yes to fairness, and one vote at a time, brought gay people closer to full participation in our democracy, with the rights and privileges those of us perceived as heterosexual enjoy.

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Weathering the Storm – Sandy, Scars, and Survivor Guilt

Collapsed Boardwalk Buildings After Sandy.

Eleven years ago, my corner of the planet experienced a loss so big, the space it left in our psyches and our landscape remains empty.  We’ve spent the last eleven years jumping when we heard crashing sounds, freezing when planes flew too low over our heads, and  knowing that anytime the phone rang it could be that call.  Sure, our vigilance has faded over time, but we have a new reality now.  I will always feel an eerie sense of disorientation looking out at the skyline, or navigating the winding streets of the West Village without those towers to tell me which way is north.

Life goes back to normal, and it doesn’t.  Somehow we get where we need to go, but the sense of disorientation, of being a little less rooted, remains.  And so it will be with “Super-Storm” Sandy.  Eleven years later, our collective trauma is rekindled, as we again find ourselves wandering through familiar neighborhoods that don’t feel quite like home – the maps in our minds of time and space that keep us anchored to the physical world, mangled and torn.

I learned to walk on a beach in a tiny, hurricane-battered coastal enclave where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Delaware Bay.  I learned to swim in a lagoon in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.  In that same town, my grandmother, knowing she was going to die soon, snagged a ride to the Boardwalk and enjoyed her last hot dog and Kohr’s Frozen Custard.  Soft food diet be damned!   Grammy was independent till the bitter end.  A widow almost sixty years, she would say, emphatically, “I don’t want no man on top of me!” when asked why she never remarried.  Gram wasn’t about to wait for a slow-moving storm to wash away a little more of her independence each day.  That hot dog killed her just as she’d been warned it would.  It was no accident.  She enjoyed every bite.

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